Co-Parenting Tips for the Holidays
“Ah, the holidays?” For almost any of us, the holiday season is not without its stress points. From travel and gift-giving to hyperactive social schedules and financial pressures, November and December can be particularly trying months for any busy parent. For those who are divorced or who are in the process of divorcing, co-parenting can be especially daunting during this time of year. However, with a little foresight, planning and consideration, you and your former (or soon-to-be former) spouse can turn a potentially unpleasant situation into one that you and your kids will enjoy.
Here are several ways to make the holidays happy for you and your extended family:
Make a Plan
Your family law attorney will help you map out a custody plan as you go through your divorce. It will cover your regular routines as well as make provisions for summer and holiday custody. Holidays are a scheduling and logistics operation so take into consideration travel times and distances, your own new holiday customs as well as your ex’s family traditions and locations. The last thing you want to do is spend precious time together in the car or waiting at the airport for your child to arrive. Be open to some schedule swapping with your former spouse and be sure to document any changes to the agreed-upon plan.
Create New Traditions
Divorce permanently alters family routines, and the holidays are no exception. You may feel angry or frustrated that your own traditions have been uprooted or that something your child loved is no longer an option. For parents, accepting the reality of change and leaning into it may be the best way to build new traditions. Children are remarkably resilient as well as creative. Start new customs that accentuate your time together and make your children feel special. This may also deepen relationships with stepparents and their families, an added bonus for your child’s happiness.
Include Your Co-Parent Virtually
While you may not want to spend your Christmas morning unwrapping presents with your ex, your child most likely misses the rituals you established in your marriage. And just like you, your co-parent misses the child in their absence. Use technology to your advantage and Facetime during the holidays. Have your child share pictures and videos of themselves unwrapping gifts from the other parent and grandparents. Avoid creating resentment and make your child’s joy something that they can freely share with either parent.
Support Your Children When They’re with Your Ex
Making your child feel guilty when your former spouse has custody is a terrible way to spend what is supposed to be a special time of year. Guilt trips can, and often do, backfire on the parent imposing them. Again, your child’s happiness should be the top priority. Encourage them to anticipate their visit with the other parent and help them get excited about participating in new family traditions. Be present when you’re reunited and actively listen to their stories of the other holiday celebration.
Be Civil with Each Other
Divorce not only impacts parents and their children, but it’s also tough on the entire extended family. Starting with the initial pre-holiday planning conversations, lead with a positive attitude and try to foster a spirit of cooperation with the other parent. Keep the kids’ best interests in mind. Thoughtful acts such as baking something for your ex or getting a gift for your child to give the other parent or grandparents can go a long way towards lessening the stress and defusing a potentially volatile interaction. Not only is a little kindness and consideration appropriate during the holidays, but they also help avoid conflict and set a fine example for your children.
Divorce is rarely an easy process, especially for children. For parents, putting the child’s needs first and working to make the best of the situation is not only good for your kids, but good for you as well. A good attitude, a measure of empathy and some proactive grace will help you navigate the holidays’ potential pitfalls and better enjoy this special time of year.
Caitlyn Kerr is an associate at Boyd, Collar, Nolen, Tuggle & Roddenbery, where her family law practice includes matters involving high-net-worth divorce, child custody, modifications, contempt hearings and bench trials.